In this article, I’ll break down my model test shoot with the beautiful Dallas area model Madison Rea.
I’ll explain my settings with the Sony a7riii and how I used the Profoto b2 strobes. Then, I’ll go over my process in detail including all camera gear, settings, location and final edits.
I’ll analyze this shoot and tell you the things I learned and what I might try differently in the future.
Table of Contents Hide
- How to Shoot Portraits with off camera flash
- Off camera flash photography workflow
- Portrait Shoot Concepts – Mood Board Images
- My Camera Gear
- Sony a7riii Mirrorless Camera
- Sony 85mm F1.4 G Master Lens w/ Gobe Variable ND Filter
- Profoto B2 Strobe with Softbox
- Portrait shoot location
- Getting down to the shoot
- Off Camera Flash Photography
- Moving around the location
- Portrait Gallery
- Post Production
- Culling Portrait Images
- Editing Shots in Adobe ACR and Photoshop
- Saving images for web
- Delivering Photos
- What I learned from this portrait shoot
- What I would do differently for this portrait shoot
How to Shoot Portraits with off camera flash
I’ve been doing model test shoots with Dallas Fort Worth models for the last 4+ years. I work with models of all different experience levels and this is how I came across working with Madison.
She reached out on social media on one of my model calls and we got a shoot scheduled and made it happen.
Off camera flash photography workflow
In my “how to shoot portraits” series, I go in-depth explaining all aspects of my individual portrait shoots.
The goal is to show you how I got the shots, and how I generally look to improve my portrait photography after each new shoot.
I tell new photographers all the time that the best way to learn is to go out and shoot then look back at your experience and analyze the details.
You will be surprised what you learn when you look back at your portrait photography workflow.
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Let’s break down all the pre-production details including concepts, camera gear, lens selection and lighting for this shoot.
I want to make sure you know exactly what I had in mind for this fashion shoot and what I was aiming for.
Portrait Shoot Concepts – Mood Board Images
Every one of my portrait shoots starts with a mood board. I create these by first going to online sources like Pinterest or Instagram and saving a few images for reference.
This can be clothing styles, or lighting styles or color patterns that I would like to try.
The goal is to get inspiration for my shoots and give my models an idea of the look and vibe I am going for. Here are the mood board images for this shoot with Madison.
My Camera Gear
My camera bag usually changes based on what I am looking to accomplish. There are times I will shoot with my Sony a7riii and times I will shoot with my crop sensor Sony a6400.
This time I choose the full-frame camera.
Sony a7riii Mirrorless Camera
This is my main camera that I shoot portraits with about 80% of the time now days. I have found the quality and light weight perfect for small portrait shoots.
I have a small pinky grip attached to my camera as well for extra comfort and grip.
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Sony 85mm F1.4 G Master Lens w/ Gobe Variable ND Filter
For this shoot, I choose the Sony 85mm f1.4 prime lens. I switch back and forth between prime lenses and zooms all the time for portrait shoots, but I knew this time I wanted to take the time and see how I could shoot wide open in the bright sunny afternoon.
I pretty much zoomed with my feet the whole time. This cut down on wasted time and allowed me to get more shots from the session.
Profoto B2 Strobe with Softbox
I started natural light photography and eventually moved to off camera flash. My main flash is the Profoto B2 strobe.
It’s a small 250w light that is about 5 times brighter than your average speed light. I have this light paired with a 2×3 Profoto OCF softbox for softer light output.
The strobe is triggered by my Profoto air remote which sits on my Sony a7riii. I love the TTL functionality of this strobe as it makes my life way easier sometimes when I’m in a hurry.
I just set my camera settings in manual mode and then flip my remote to TTL and I let the flash do the work. It’s not always perfect so I tweak as needed.
Portrait shoot location
The Texas heat was no joke that day but I wanted to test out my strobes in the bright Texas sunlight.
The light was beating down from perfectly above and I needed to make sure my model didn’t melt in the process.
We used the Shops at Legacy in Plano, TX as our main location and just moved around to different areas as needed.
There wasn’t much foot traffic so we were able to shoot pretty uninterrupted during the entire session.
Getting down to the shoot
We were now ready to get to shooting. My camera settings were about dialed in and I also had my Profoto B2 strobe ready to go.
This combination allows me to stay portable but I still keep a small backpack with me during the shoot. It holds my keys, wallet, phone and extra batteries and water bottles just in case.
Off Camera Flash Photography
- In order to get my first few shots, I started with the basics. Exposing for the background. I was shooting with the a7riii and 85mm lens with a 8-stop variable ND filter on the front.
- My next step was to set the ND filter to its lowest settings. I was shooting wide open at f1.4 so I knew I was going to need to adjust the filter to a stronger setting. I set my ISO to 100 and shutter speed to 1/250s. The shutter could have gone even faster but I thought this was a good starting point. This is the first time I shot with the Gobe Variable Neutral Density Filter (ND Filter) and it didn’t disappoint. In the bright and hot Texas sun I had to use the filter at almost max settings in order to expose correctly for the background.
- Once I had proper exposure I turned on my air remote trigger and set the mode to TTL. I took my first shot and then switched the trigger mode to manual. Once on manual I adjusted the brightness of the light until it was just right. I have thought about using a light meter for this, but I just winged it for this time shoot.
Moving around the location
This is pretty much how the rest of the shoot went. We moved around to different locations walking for a few mins or until I found backgrounds that were less distracting or cluttered.
After I shot for about 15-20 mins, I asked Madison to change into her next look. We shot 3 looks before we just couldn’t stand the heat anymore.
For this first shot, I moved Madison to the street level of the shopping center. We had really bright light in the middle of the street and side walk so I moved her towards the side of the building.
The dark walls acted like a natural dark v-flat and allowed for a small amount of light to be bounced.
I setup the Profoto B2 camera left and made sure it was pretty close to her. This created a really soft light for the shot.
The next shot involved her sitting on a small retaining wall next to a small restaurant. Behind her was beautiful flower arrangements so I kept her close to the background.
This helped declutter the background and added lovely colored bokeh in the back.
The flash was camera left about 3 feet from Madison. I remember moving it back even more so I could get more even lighting from head to toe.
We eventually moved around a corner and I found a small backdoor entrance that was covered and shaded from the sun.
The problem was this created too much shadows so I brought Madison closer to the edge of the wall.
This create some brilliant highlights in her hair and a rim light to her right. In order to balance this, I moved the flash to camera left and raised it above her eye level.
This created a small shadow around her jaw line and added more highlights to her face and hair.
In this last shot, Madison and I moved to the top of a 4 level parking garage. It was super bright due to the concrete bounding light everywhere.
I put the variable ND filter at the max settings to expose for the background.
After exposing for the background I moved the flash to camera left so I could balance the light.
I remember using the strobe at about 75% of the max power just to balance the light from the sun.
After the shoot, I loaded the images to my computer to start the post production process. I work on my main editing machine which is a 2017 iMac.
I move all the images from the SD card to my hard drive so I can have a backup of the files.
Culling Portrait Images
I ended up shooting around 200 images from this session. This is a pretty common amount for a shoot like this with 3 looks.
I like to edit at least 3-5 of the best images per look so I am looking to find the best 15-20 images from the portrait shoot.
When culling images (reviewing images) I look for a few details including:
- Maximum focus on the eyes and face
- Natural pose, nothing to wild
- Simple backgrounds with nothing too distracting
- I make sure nothing is shooting out of the models head in the background
- Even lighting and decent exposure that I could recover in Adobe ACR
- A variety of shots including close-ups, and wide angle shots or full-body shots.
I tag all the images with a red color tag and then bring them to the top of the window by sorting by tags.
Editing Shots in Adobe ACR and Photoshop
- Once I have the final RAW images I intend to edit, I open Adobe Photoshop on my computer. I drag the RAW files into the program and this opens Adobe ACR. ACR is the RAW processing application built into Photoshop. I have my presets saved in this program so the images automatically adjust when loaded.
- Once the small tweaks are finished in ACR, I open the full file in Photoshop. I commence cleaning up skin blemishes with the healing brush, and then remove any distractions in the background of the shot.
- Frequency separation is the next step. I use this to smooth out the skin tones around the full face, arms and exposed skin. I also do small amounts of dodge and burn during this stage. This helps with highlights and shadows in certain areas that I want to stand out.
- The last step is the color grading process. I have special action sets created to help with color grading so I simply run the actions and this ads the colors to the top of the image. I adjust as needed.
Saving images for web
Once the image is completed and I am happy with the edit, I save the final image as a JPG. this lets me keep the quality up but also keep the file size to a minimum.
I save two sizes of the final image.
One large and one small. The small usually is loaded to my website while the large is loaded to social media and used for other purposes.
Once all photos are saved I load them to dropbox for final delivery. I send Madison a link via messenger on Instagram and via email.
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What I learned from this portrait shoot
- I learned that with a variable ND filter, my 250w strobe can overpower the sun for portraits. (technically you don’t overpower the sun, you really just balance light)
- Keep Madison in the shade will help to keep the background properly exposed versus being in the bright light
- I kept the sun to Madison’s back while shooting so this made for a great rim light on the hair.
What I would do differently for this portrait shoot
- I would NOT shoot in the bright daytime light if I had a choice.
- It was TOO hot outside to shoot in general so next time I’ll wait for sunset or shoot in the early morning.
- It would have been nice to have an assistant to help with moving lighting during the shoot. This way I could test the flash faster at different lengths away from Madison.
I enjoyed this model test shoot with Madison and can’t wait to do more this summer. I’m hoping that we get a chance to meet in studio and doe more lifestyle shoots in the future.
I hope this portrait shoot breakdown helps you understand a little more about my workflow and process of shooting portraits.
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